Where to Ship the Bombs?

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My paternal ancestry is Prussian, of a nation so aggressive and militaristic that the Allies dissolved it after World War II.

I hope you won’t hold that against me.

Especially when I say I don’t know why the US continues to help fund Israel’s war in Gaza. Israel’s current government seems to be doing a fine job of bombing the hell out of the place all on its own.

Yes, the Jewish people have been treated terribly for millennia, particularly under Christian rule in Europe, long before Nazi Germany. They deserve respect, peace, and a land to call their own.

Hamas’ murder of 1,200 Israelis on 7 October of last year was unforgiveable.

By contrast, Israeli bombardment and ground attacks since then have killed more than 17,000 Palestinians, a third of those being children, with most of the remaining 2.3 million population now without food, water, shelter, or health care. Humanitarian aid has been largely blocked.

Meanwhile, Russia’s brutal aggression in Ukraine continues. Yet our lawmakers’ resolve there seems to be wavering even as their inclination to continue funding the war in Gaza firms.

That seems backward to me. But then, my Prussian ancestor brought his family to the US just after the Napoleonic Wars. I believe he was tired of France and Germany’s seesaw history of imperialism. From that standpoint, Russian current imperialistic aggression seems more of a threat to global peace than Hamas’ terrorism in Israel.

And it ain’t antiSemictic of me to say so.

How I Survived Hiragana & Katakana

Earlier this year, the family splurged to get me a Steam Deck. I generally hate spending money on a “pricey gizmo,” and my manual dexterity sucks with joystick controls, so I was hesitant about okaying this one. But when my Barcelonan buddy Abraham Limpo Martinez brought his to Gary Con as a “laptop,” that ticked enough checkboxes to make it a go.

One benefit of its convenience has been playing the Learn Japanese to Survive series of PC games. I’ve been studying Japanese sort of casual like for a couple of decades now. First as Pimsleur lessons in the car on the way to work, then with Memrize & Duolingo.

(Duolingo is sort of my methadone versus Candy Crack addiction, a financially safe way to fill in spare moments here and there.)

I’m impressed as heck with the Learn Japanese to Survive series so far. This past weekend I concluded the second, Katakana War, and like its predecessor, Hiragana Battle, it’s an engaging game in and of itself, with the added bonus of language learning by osmosis rather than study.

Basically, the Learn Japanese to Survive games are Roguelite RPGs with monsters that assume the shape of Japanese language characters, and the only way your band of heroes can land a blow is to choose the correct symbol. It doesn’t feel like study. But by the time you’ve reached and defeated the Boss, you’ll have mastered a full writing system, and will have picked up some Japanese language and culture along the way.

One little bonus I’ve particularly enjoyed is that even after beating the Big Bad, there are legitimate story reasons for returning. In Hiragana Battle it turned out I had missed a couple of side quests, and though the village was now at peace, my champion could still complete those. In Katakana War there were also a few classmates remaining with whom I’d not had time to fully develop friendships and maximize their “class.” So it made an emotional sense to swap them out for experienced party members and go on cleanup detail, tracking down monsters that weren’t destroyed in the war. Yeah, basically a game rationale for continuing to practice, but it *feels* like denouement, not merely a mechanic.

Last night I started on Kanji Combat, and this one is definitely more of a challenge for an English speaker. Though Duolingo has been salting its lessons with various kanji, such as ? “mizu” for “water,” it gave no inkling that this is merely its kun-yomi reading—that when incorporated into a compound word, ? has a different, on-yomi pronunciation, and that some kanji might have more than one pronunciation in both kun and on uses.

Rereading that paragraph, I’m terrified. But in the game, I’m just playing in a manga-style story about a foreign student stranded in Japanese prehistory with three fellow foreign students and their language sensei. I’m immersed in the personalized character. If he is to survive, he’ll need to learn some kanji—a few at a time—to battle the shapeshifting demons and return home.

The Steam Deck makes playing convenient. I did have to tweak the Katakana War installation a bit to make it work, but gaining familiarity with the deck’s Linux desktop mode was one more appeal for buying the device in the first place.

One last comment about the game series: It’s a pleasure to see that its development was funded by Kickstarter backers. This is crowdfunding at its best, bringing to life something glorious that wouldn’t have otherwise existed.

Oh, and the trio is now on sale at an insanely low price.

100,000 Years and Counting

At 50, I got a big motorcycle and a tiny Chihuahua. The bike took me on many adventures, but the Chihuahua changed my life.

I’m not sure why a Chihuahua. Like pretty much everybody, I always thought they’re annoyingly yappy. But I came to realize that I admire their bravery, a spirit far larger than their physicality.

Humans and dogs, I’ve read, have depended on each other for 100,000 years. (Yesterday I saw a photo of an 8,600-year old burial site, the skeleton of a dog buried with its toys.) We’ve clearly affected their evolution, however you want to read that word, which makes me wonder how they may have affected ours.

They’ve certainly affected my own. I’m a kinder, more attentive person in general because of that first little Chihuahua, Dobie, who taught me that an old guy and a little dog could communicate far more clearly than I’d ever imagined. Could look each other in the eyes and see a friend.

I can’t be sure that the little guy in this video is a Chihuahua, but he sure acts like one. And I’m touched by the bond between him and his fellow. The fact that even as the man dodges between the cars, he’s calling for his dog to come to safety. These two instinctively care about each other.

I’m sure that little guy got all kinds of love and praise afterward. He certainly pulled off his part of the ages old human/canine partnership, regardless of his size.

Magnum Opus?

Photo by Crisoforo Gaspar Hernandez on Unsplash

If you’ll forgive a bit of introspection about my own work …

Last night, Jennifer asked me if, given its ongoing success, I thought the Bookmark HP RPG was my magnum opus.

My first quip was, “So far!” But honestly, I doubt there’ll be another. Three self-published RPG lines is more than enough to keep an old guy busy, what with people asking for supplements. And a couple of the card games, I’d love to see continue to grow.

Upon reflection, I told her “It’s a hard call. I know a few people who’d argue D6xD6 is a better RPG.” She said, “That’s not the question. What about you?”

Truthfully, being retired, I’m doing these things because I love them. There’s nobody to say, “We can’t sell it” or “You have to follow these guidelines.” I design things I want to play. So it’s difficult to choose between the particular features of one over the other.

Most people who know my work would probably say, “Dragon Dice.” A few might say, “Dark Conspiracy.” And yeah, I loved those labors, too, but they’re out of my hands, each a work for hire.

If I had to choose, if push came to shove, yeah, I think BNHP is the one. Its 1-10 scale is so easy. Its dice odds fell into place with a sense of discovery more than intent. (Much of creative work is simply recognizing when something falls into your lap.) And it’s my one and only polyhedral game, hearkening back all the way to my first years as a gamer with the original D&D. A satisfying sense of full circle.

Kate says I should call my little publishing company “Challenge Accepted! Games,” because nearly everything came from somebody saying “That’ll never work.”

Yeah, it’s a fair cop. But I think there’s plenty of that left in this little RPG line. I feel contented in a sort of “Nuns Fret Not” sense.

In the words of William Wordsworth …

Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, into which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.